On May 27, 2016

News Briefs: Rutland Region May 26

Neighbors helping neighbors

RUTLAND CITY—Major thank yous are due to Alderman Dave Allaire and his wife Audrey for stepping up to aid Bardwell House residents evacuated as a result of the May 7 fire. The couple spent the day keeping company with Bardwell residents, helping keep them calm, buying them snacks, and finding as many answers as possible to their nervous questions. Others who deserve commendation for their assistance include Joy Barrett, Karen Bossi, and Sharon Davis.

Rutland City seeks replacement for Killington Classic

RUTLAND CITY—For 10 years, the Killington Classic Motorcycle Touring Rally brought tourism to Vermont at the end of each summer. The rally included social events, vendors, bike and stunt shows, special events, live music, and a 12-mile motorcycle parade, in addition to five days of touring Vermont. It brought more than 3,000 tourists to the area for a premier experience. Rutland shared in the experience and the economic benefits of the annual motorized party. Participants took part in an annual welcome party in downtown Rutland.

Now, the Classic is no more. The Killington Economic Committee has shifted its attention and dollars toward its summer concert series. Downtown Rutland Partnership Executive Director Mike Coppinger believes that Rutland can offer a viable alternative in the Blessing of the Bikes, held May 15 this year.

In its third year, the 2016 Blessing brought out only 50 riders, less than either previous year. This year’s weather, with temperatures in the 40s, is thought to be a major reason for low attendance. Coppinger hopes to bring the numbers up and nurture the Blessing into a two-day event.

Police receive tech upgrade

RUTLAND CITY—Antiquated communications equipment in the Rutland City Police Department is being replaced with the aid of a $166,400 federal Homeland Security grant administered by the state. The department had applied for the funding to replace its 16-year-old communications equipment a year and a half ago. The police department is now ready to trigger the bid process that will identify an acceptable vendor for the new equipment, once the Board of Aldermen has accepted the grant funds. Police Chief Brian Kilcullen observed that the current dispatch equipment is so antiquated that its original manufacturer is out of business and no new replacement parts are available when there is a breakdown. Instead, the department’s repair contractor must look through obsolete discard “boneyards” to find used parts with which to make repairs. An equipment failure might be permanent at any time because the equipment is irreplaceable, Kilcullen explained.

The police chief asked the Aldermen to approve up to an additional $30,000 from the police department’s asset forfeiture fund to complete the project, anticipating that the grant funds may not be quite enough. He described the request as “a safeguard in case it goes over.”

The scheduled equipment includes MAX Pro workstations along with hardware and software, desktop microphones and foot switches, multi-touch monitors, and mounting and power equipment. Also included are a block of 10 radio channel licenses and a remote radio or console license as well as installation and training.

The grant requires the city to ensure that those who use the equipment supplied by the grant are trained and that the city file quarterly reports that specify training received. The city is also to ensure that the project becomes fully operational, reporting to the grant manager when it’s complete and operating.

Refugee resettlement challenged

RUTLAND CITY—A number of community members are vehemently opposed to a plan that would resettle Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Rutland, beginning in October 2016. Mayor Chris Louras believes that the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program will benefit Rutland and does not represent a security risk. City resident David Trapeni disagrees with Louras’ assessment. Citing concerns about municipal safety, financial responsibility, and cross-cultural conflict, Trapeni is circulating a petition calling for a non-binding vote on whether the city should participate in the federal-state resettlement program, to be held on or before Sept. 20.

Voting results may have no effect on slowing or stopping the resettlement because the city lacks authority to stop the refugees’ arrival, city officials note. Board of Aldermen President William Notte declared on May 19 that there is no legal way to turn someone away based on their nationality or religion. If Trapeni’s petition attracts the requisite five percent of the city’s registered voters, 514 signatures, the petition may be put on a ballot . . . but it is the Board of Aldermen who must decide whether or not to schedule such a vote.

Church pre-K sues state for revoking prequalification

RUTLAND CITY—The Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church of Rutland has filed suit against the Vermont agencies of education and human services to access public pre-kindergarten vouchers. Its four-page complaint, filed March 25 in Rutland Civil Court, contends that the AOE wrongfully revoked “prequalified” pre-kindergarten provider status for the church. The prequalified designation is necessary for child care centers receiving public school district tuition dollars.

A state law requires the secretary of education to ensure that no public funds are used to support religious worship, the AOE claimed when it revoked Good Shepherd’s designation in January, effective June 30. Although Little Lambs Early Learning Center Director Sue Grenier asserted that the center’s schedule sets pre-K programming from 10 to noon Monday through Friday and includes no religious content, the AOE refused to reverse its decision. Little Lambs has 39 children enrolled in its pre-kindergarten program, taught by licensed, degreed teachers.

Assistant Attorney General Melanie Kehne supports the AOE’s denial of the designation not only for Good Shepherd but also for Victory Baptist Church in Addison County which has filed a similar suit, she said. She claims the churches lack “adequate safeguards against the use of such funds.”

Timing may be critical as the state fully implements Act 166 of 2014, mandating that Vermont public school districts must provide a minimum of 10 hours a week of pre-kindergarten, either providing an in-house program or contracting with pre-qualified public or private providers on a tuition basis.

In March 2015 AOE and the Department for Children and Families, jointly responsible for writing the pre-K rules and approving providers, approved Little Lambs as a provider. Little Lambs received Act 166 vouchers for four children in the current academic year, with students residing in West Rutland, Rutland Town and Proctor school districts. Each voucher was worth $3,000 this year and $3,092 in the 2016-2017 school year.

Regulators explore college expansion plans

RUTLAND TOWN— District 1 environmental commissioners and officials representing the College of St. Joseph officials and Rutland Town toured the school’s Center Rutland campus, studying the site of a proposed new dormitory, dining hall, and roadway loop. The roadway work is already underway, realigning the campus entrance with that of the new Ripley Road layout.

The new entrance will be safer because its realignment allows increased field of vision. It is also raised above 100-year flood levels, said Kevin Smith, engineer for Marble Valley Engineering.

The second phase of construction, building the new dorm and dining hall, will create an “encapsulated space” or more campus-like atmosphere. Also added are an additional parking area and a paved loop that circumscribes the campus.

This second phase will require a second approval, commented William Burke, Environmental Commission clerk. The additional housing may be expected to add 135 trips per day to the traffic count, Smith projected, adding that the road network surrounding the campus is “robust” enough to serve the increase, offering multiple entry and exit points for service vehicles. Rutland Town Fire Chief Frank Cioffi had already filed his concern with the commission, saying that he fears additional traffic may create backups and hinder emergency vehicles where Ripley Road and West Street intersect, as well as at the Ripley Bridge and at the college entrance.

If a major event is held on campus, traffic controllers at the college will ease traffic flow and monitor traffic at the Ripley Road and West Street intersection, assured James Goss, attorney for the school.

Whether Provision 9(L) of Act 250 criteria will present an obstacle for the expansion seems likely to depend on interpretation. Intended to reduce sprawl, encourage infill development, and avoid strip development, it promotes permits on a compact village or urban center model. Goss believes the $10.7 million project is exempt from 9(L) because the college meets the definition of an “existing settlement.”

Traffic note

Ripley Road construction will halt for the Memorial Day weekend at noon Friday, May 27, and resume at 7 a.m. Tuesday, May 31. The detour will remain in effect, but access to all businesses on Ripley Road between Business Route 4 and the bridge is required to be kept open at all times.

Airport expansion encouraged

RUTLAND TOWN—A new, larger hangar should be the first step in a major expansion of the Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport, Rutand Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Lyle Jepson told Rutland Town officials May 17. The bigger hangar would increase business potential for both the airport and the adjacent industrial complex.

Speaking as a co-head of the newly created Airport Development Committee, Jepson estimated the cost of hangar expansion in North Clarendon to be about $2 million. He asked the Town Select Board to write a letter of support for a feasibility study grant from the state. Eventually, the Town may be asked to support the project financially.

Other committee members include Rutland Mayor Chris Louras, Clarendon Select Board and Planning Commission members, and Rutland Town Select Board member Mary Ashcroft. Airport Manager Chris Beitzel co-heads the Airport Development Committee along with Jepson.

Small solar proposal received, nixed by town

WEST RUTLAND—A solar array at 280 Clarendon Avenue proposed by Westside Solar LLC would help offset power used by several Village Car Wash facilities and an abutting landowner, according to a certificate of public good application, according to Vermont Public Service Board clerk Judith Whitney. The facility would occupy 2.35 acres, consisting of 11 south-facing, fixed mounted rows of solar panels no taller than nine feet, indicate documents filed with the PSB by Krebs & Lansing president Ian Jewkes.

The site comprises two parcels, a 2.20-acre purchased by Westside Solar in August 2015, and a strip leased later that year from abutting neighbor Kelley Swarthout, that will bear two additional rows of panels. The net-meter site will produce 500 kilowatts.

Leonard Knappmiller, identified in the application as the only member of Westside Solar, owns two group net-meter solar arrays: an 82.5-kilowatt array on Rutland’s North Main Street, and a 150-kilowatt array on Proctor’s West Proctor Road.

Kelley Swarthout, who is leasing out the land, has owned the property next to the site for 15 years, according to a letter submitted to the town and included in the application.

West Rutland’s Development Review Board turned down the project, saying it did not meet town regulations. The letter submitted to the PSB stated the project violates town zoning regulations, exceeds the proper size surface area restriction, and changes neighborhood character. It also requested the town and adjoining property owners be granted party status and that the state board turn down the project application.

Vandals hit West Rutland Catholic cemetery

WEST RUTLAND—Some time in the last month or two, vandals toppled and broke headstones in the West Rutland Catholic cemetery. Some were even removed. Sgt. Andrew Cross of the Rutland County sheriff’s department is asking the public for help in identifying the culprits by calling 775-8002. It remains unknown whether the damage occurred during a single episode of malicious behavior, or over a longer time period. The cemetery, consecrated in May 1865, serves the St. Bridget, St. Stanislaus Kostka, and Sacred Heart churches. One of the oldest active Catholic cemeteries in the diocese, it covers more than 10 acres. Neither the diocese nor the individual churches carries insurance that covers this kind of damage.

New business pops up in Pittsford

PITTSFORD—Charles “Chip” Greeno, owner of The Local dance club in downtown Rutland, has launched another business, C&C Fireworks on Route 7 in Pittsford. It’s open 7 days a week, noon until 6 p.m. through September. He describes his business as the only legal fireworks retailer in southern Vermont, specializing in events and “always willing to make a deal.”

Last summer he appeared before the Rutland City Aldermen, asking to operate a fireworks concession stand in the city. The request was referred to the Public Safety Committee. After hearing that the committee thought his business “would cripple the police force and fire department,” Greeno took his business to the other side of the town line.

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